High school is hard enough for teens who come from stable homes, but homeless teens face an entirely new set of challenges. Despite boasting a median household income of over $100,000, Fairfax County Virginia has almost 2,000 homeless teens, 200 of whom are living on their own, without a parent or guardian.
One such teen, profiled by the Washington Post Tuesday, was 18-year-old Landis Brewer, abandoned by his parents after their marriage disintegrated. Brewer was left alone in his house until he was evicted. Thus began a series of nights spent in bus stops or any other location where Brewer could stay safe and warm.
Finally a teacher confronted Brewster and his story was exposed. Lucky for him, Fairfax County has a program, The Homeless Youth Initiative, which gives homeless teens their own caseworkers and housing to ensure that these students have a fighting chance.
All over the country, homelessness is becoming more and more prevalent, even among teenagers. According to the Education Department, we have over one million homeless students among us, some of whom are completely alone, like Landis Brewer was. Counties in Washington confirmed these statistics, citing 2,000 homeless students, around 80 of whom are thought to have no parent or guardian with them. Keep in mind that these statistics don’t account for the numbers of students who have dropped out of high school due to their homelessness and lack of support systems.
The Fairfax Homeless Youth Initiative seems to be working. It provides rent subsidies for some and host homes for other students who aren’t ready to live on their own. The program is about more than providing housing, social worker Kristen Sorenson told the Post, “They call us when they get their report cards and when they want to share good news. This is their support network.” The results seem promising.
Many of the program participants, students who would have been at risk for dropping out of high school, are graduating and moving on to college.
However, the Fairfax Homeless Youth Initiative may be in trouble. It had been run on stimulus funding which will dry up soon. After the stimulus funding is gone, the program will rely on funding from grants.
Landis Brewer is living proof of the success of the program. Landis, the boy who once slept in bus stops and fell asleep in class, is preparing to leave for college next fall.
Photo thanks to Michi003 via Flickr